Families are so important. We as humans are made for family. We are made for a place where we so want to belong, to be part of, to have as our identification of who we are, of where we came from, of who we aspire to be like (and in some cases, who we aspire not to be like). Families are changing. A little while back, I looked at this in a blog post. Some disagreed with my assessment (you can read about that in the comments section). The frustration was over what the ideal traditional family is and should be like.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the ideal concept of a family with a mom and a dad and 2.5 kiddos, with a nice happy home that is a refuge from the world. But even in what so many see as what should be the ideal traditional family, there can be (and usually is) pain, hurt, frustration, dysfunction, and brokenness.
In fact, for some in the ideal traditional family, there is so much pressure from the inside and the outside (and sadly this pressure usually comes from the church) to put on the appearance of being the happy ideal traditional family when in reality, it down right stinks.
Families are different today than they were years ago. They don’t operate in the same capacity as they once did. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. I mean, what really is a traditional family? What is tradition? Families haven’t always been like we think the ideal should be.
Henry VIII of England had marital problems. His daughters didn’t fair all to much better (Elizabeth and Mary were always fighting and Mary eventually lost her head over the argument). Families used marriages and children as political, social, and financial gain. Daughters were sold at a price, alliances were made through using children in marriage. It was a huge geo-political game of Survivor where alliances were made and broken. But of course, that was then. We have the traditional American family to look at.
Is that any better? Children were born to work. And to work hard. Children were the parents 401K in retirement. And when the Industrial Revolution happened, children were sent off to the factories to work or the coal mines to dig. Slave owners would create their own families with their slaves, breeding human beings like you would with animal husbandry to get good stock. This is part of the American tradition. It is a sad part of the American tradition.
The ideal family that’s stuck in our mind is more from the 50’s Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, and Donna Reed, not the Bible, not the church. And that is where we’re falling flat.
If the church wants families to step up and to step out into faith and through the doors of the church (and not running out of the doors) then we too need to step up our game and step out in faith. Sadly, we’ve fallen flat too many times. Single mothers have struggled with raising kids and instead of coming along side, we’ve clicked our tongues in disdain and judged her children and her life choices not knowing the pain and shame residing inside. As a church, we’ve raised up the ideal traditional family so high it has become an idol we worship rather than something we try to enrich and encourage. As a church, we take sides when brothers and sisters in the faith go through a divorce rather than walking along side both husband and wife. We judge. We click our tongues. We play armchair quarterbacks to someone else’s family while hiding our own struggles and pain.
The church is to step up. To step up in faith to help strengthen marriages and families. To step up and be present for those who are going through issues. Not in a judgmental way but in a grace-filled way.
What I like about the Christian Reformed Church is that in their liturgy on marriage, they ask all who are present to stand up during the wedding ceremony. The people then are asked to come along side this couple, to walk with this couple, to encourage this couple through all life’s demands. The same is true for our liturgy for infant baptism. The congregation stands up and agrees to help raise this child in the faith, helping the parents along the way.
Sadly, I must ask, do we actually do this? Does the paper match the pews?
Are you bemoaning what has happened to your ideal traditional family? Please stop. Instead step up to help. Step up to encourage families no matter what stage and area in life they are at. Step out in faith and if you fall flat, get up, dust yourself off, and try again. But stop complaining and start doing something.
It is the job of the church, the people who are to be the body of Jesus in this world, the reflection of God’s kingdom to all around us, to encourage families and marriages.
Are we? How can we? That might be for another post.